At an event hosted by the nonprofit think tank Public Policy Institute of California, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and California HHS Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly gave their point of view on where the nation and state stand with COVID-19 and what comes next for the pandemic response. The two leaders also reflected on what the past few years have taught them about fairness and talked about sowing the seeds for a more robust health care system.
Here are five key takeaways from the event.
1. Vaccination rates are rising, but they are still low
Although Becerra said the outlook for COVID-19 is much better than it was when the Biden administration took office in early 2021, he noted that between 300 and 400 people a day in the states States are still dying from the disease.
“If we had an airliner in America crashing every day, killing everyone on board, we would be talking about how we’re going to change our aviation industry or find out what’s going on,” he said. declared.
In response, Becerra said it was crucial that everyone get vaccinated. He noted that people who die of COVID aren’t up to date on their vaccines or didn’t get vaccinated in the first place. “Anyone you’re thinking of hugging or kissing this holiday, I hope you and they get vaccinated,” he said.
In California, Ghaly said more and more people are picking up the pace when it comes to getting the updated COVID reminder. He said on Wednesday this week that 40% more bivalent boosters were given than the seven-day average the previous week.
“California people are starting to get the message,” he said. “They’re starting to see the real reality of the threat.”
According to latest status data, 18.3% of Californians received the bivalent booster. The number is higher for Sacramento County, at nearly 21%.
2. We’re still not using enough COVID treatment
Ghaly said that while vaccines and mask-wearing are powerful tools, Californians keep not lookingor forgo COVID treatments, like Paxlovid, which must be taken within five to seven days of the onset of symptoms.
He said that for those at high risk, “getting treatment early can really not only save their life, but also save a lot of the symptoms and the hardship of those early days of infection.”
Other California health officials have recommended that all residents over 50 create a treatment plan get care early if they get COVID.
3. Mental health care and harm reduction are federal priorities
The pandemic has public health workers under strainleading to job departures and widespread stress in the healthcare field.
“I’ve spoken to clinicians who are exhausted but need to keep going because there are people who are on the edge,” Becerra said.
Both he and Ghaly highlighted the investments made by state and federal agencies to strengthen, recruit and retain healthcare workers.
Becerra added that society must continue to destigmatize mental health issues and substance use disorders. He said health workers are not the only ones whose stress levels have been pushed “to the nth degree”, referring to the record number of drug overdoses and the crisis in teenage mental health.
He said the federal government’s new drug overdose prevention strategy is harm reduction: “So it’s not just about prevention and treatment, but it’s about trying to reduce harm. harm someone can cause themselves by consuming,” he said.
As for emphasizing mental health, Becerra said he would take the lead from President Joe Biden.
“He said we should treat behavioral health, mental health, the same way we treat physical health,” Becerra said. “There should be no prejudice, discrimination or lack of equal treatment because of a mental health condition.”
4. Inequalities persist, especially in the use of reminders
Becerra said he was proud of how the federal government “[erased] the disparity in vaccination between the black and brown communities and the white community”, by making vaccines free and by raising awareness. “We went to where they were and they responded, and that’s what we intend to do again.”
In California, Ghaly said there was “an almost 22% difference” between high and low socioeconomic groups when it comes to getting the recall updated.
“If we were wrong that we could wake up in the grip of a global pandemic and catch up with issues such as equity, disadvantage and distrust of a health care delivery system, we were dissuaded from that idea,” he said.
Ghaly said the California state legislature’s decision to allocate $300 million a year to local public health departments was an important step in making health care efficient on a block-by-block level.
5. Just because California’s state of emergency is ending doesn’t mean COVID isn’t serious anymore
California’s COVID state of emergency is expected to be lifted early next year. In October, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state of emergency would end on February 28, 2023.
When first implemented, this response included over 600 provisions, but many of these have been phased out over the past 18 months.
Ghaly said the two priorities for the state are maintaining flexibility in the care provided by the state of emergency (including telehealth and the use of different personnel) and flexibility in the use of the space.
However, just because the state of emergency is ending doesn’t mean Californians have to stop getting COVID reminders or taking the virus seriously.
“We avoid pressure and hardship on ourselves, our families and the healthcare system by doing our part,” he said.
The federal state of emergency is still in place and Becerra said he will stay there until the powers he grants are no longer crucial to dealing with the crisis.
“We can see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
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